For years, my mentor made it look so easy. He’d be in the office by 6am every day, stay there until 11pm and never complain or break a sweat once. He was as cool as they came with a work-ethic that rivaled anything I had ever seen or heard about. He would always talk about how he came from practically nothing and that all the money in the world couldn’t replace the satisfaction he felt when he knew he was really contributing. The look in people’s eyes when he complimented them; the thorough and positive resolution of a project and the opportunity to provide the livelihood of a large group of people were what he truly lived for.
I started noticing changes in him a little after his wife died. He became distant, surly and forlorn; no longer concerned about anybody else in his life. He was only 54, but he talked about retirement more than he ever had. He was torn between trying to maintain a career in which he no longer believed or spending the rest of his life alone, prematurely succumbing to old age. This was an incredibly difficult transition to watch, as he had taught me everything about our business and treated me like a son—he never had any children of his own.
He started taking sleeping pills and missing work on a regular basis. He wouldn’t even show up for conference calls or respond to emails. I honestly began to worry whether or not he’d make it to sixty. Whenever I tried to talk to him about it, he insisted that he was fine and told me that he was trying to work things out on his own and just needed some time. I figured he’d earned that after he practically built this company, so I didn’t push the issue. Then one night at three in the morning, I got a call to come bail him out of jail for a DUI. He didn’t have any cash on him, and he said I was the only person he could trust to keep this a secret.
When we got back to his house the first thing he did was reach for another Ambien. It was hard, but I confronted him and finally told him that if he didn’t get himself help, I would let our colleagues know what happened. He became furious and threw me out of his house. I went home thinking that both my career and my friendship with a great man were over. The next day, I came into work and he called me into his office. He was looking lucid, alert and perfectly groomed. “You were right,” he said. “I’m going a way for a while. Don’t burn the place down while I’m gone.” I’m not ashamed to admit that I hugged him and breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but part of me was just glad he had fight left in him.
He entered an executive drug rehab center, so I was able to keep in contact with him while he was in treatment. By his second week there, I knew he was going to be OK. I started getting emails at 5:30am again, and was never happier to get them. He came back and it was like he left the sadness in his room at the rehab facility. Now whenever he can’t sleep, he continues to work, calls me or just thinks of the good times he had with his wife.
For people who don’t realize the value of executive drug rehab, I can only say that it’s not easy living this life and the unfortunate reality is that anyone of us who are overworked, under-appreciated and married to our jobs are just a few small steps away from needing treatment ourselves.